HC Deb 01 August 1919 vol 118 cc2453-7

(1) Subject as aforesaid, it shall not be lawful for a member of a police force to become, or after the expiration of one month from the passing of this Act to be, a member of any trade union, or of any association having for its objects, or one of its objects, to control or influence the pay, pensions, or conditions of ser vice of any police force; and any member of a police force who contravenes this provision shall be disqualified for continuing to be a member of the force; and if any member of a police force continues to act as such after becoming so disqualified, he shall forfeit all pension rights and be disqualified for being thereafter employed in any police force:

Provided that where a man was a member of a trade union before becoming a constable he may, with the consent of the chief officer of police, continue to be a member of that union during the time of his service in the police force.

(2) If any question arises whether any trade union or association is a trade union or association to which this Section applies, the question shall be determined by the Secretary of State.


I beg to move to leave out Clause 2.

I will give one or two reasons for taking this course. I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend below the Gangway that, as trade unionists, we are now fight- ing the trade union battle, but I suggest that we have had no choice of any other course. The line we are taking has been imposed upon us by the terms of this Bill. I have already said in Committee, and I think in the House, that, personally, I would have preferred to have seen the policemen organised on voluntary lines, in harmony with the desire of the Home Office, with freedom to protect themselves in the police service as regards remuneration and pensions, whilst securing the community against the risks of collective action in the form of indulging in a strike to the public detriment. I would have preferred that, but we have been forced by the terms of this Bill—indeed, we have had no choice—to put the trade union position in the manner we are endeavouring to do. The hon. and gallant Member for Renfrew (Colonel Greig) gave to the House a too generous interpretation of the meaning of this Bill, whilst not giving to the House a quite accurate description of what the trade union position is. It is not enough to say that, under this Bill, policemen are allowed to form themselves into an association. They are made to do so. The Bill says they shall form themselves into branches of this Federation. It is not a Bill of "may"; it is a Bill of ''must." They are compelled, then, to form themselves into an organisation imposed upon them by the Government. The Clause under consideration takes the House further, and asks it to say that, whilst the Government sets up a trade union of its own kind, it takes away from the men any right of voluntarily associating together in an organisation corresponding to a trade union.

I, therefore, move that this Clause be deleted, because I believe that the Federation, if the Government insists upon establishing it, can be brought into being and maintained consistently and con currently with an organisation formed by the policemen themselves on voluntary lines, and which would answer very largely to a trade union. Our view is that the Government ought not at one and the same time to force the men into a Federation and force them out of the union which they have recently established for their own protection. Some consideration must be given to the very natural desire of the policemen to exercise as employès rights similar to any working-men in this country. A policeman now is in this position: He is the embodiment of the law, and yet legally he is to be deprived of exercising the common rights enjoyed by the commonest man in the commonest industry. He is the symbol of our freedom, and yet he is denied the freedom to act in any way that his fellow-men can in other associations. I suggest that this Clause, if carried, will destroy completely any right of voluntary effort on the part of the policemen to form themselves together for any kind of protective purpose. If my right hon. Friend will forgive me saying so, I think it is rather trifling with the position when he points out that individually the freedom of the police is left unimpaired, and that they can do what they like.

Everyone knows that in practice that means that personal power is worthless. A man can secure the use of power only when he acts, and is permitted to act, in association with his fellows. As a single unit he has no means whatever of arranging a bargain with his employer, or superintendent, or the man who is in any way in authority above him. He is totally helpless, and that amount of individual freedom is not worth the words that cover it. The belief then of the Labour Members in regard to this Clause is that it can be with drawn without destroying tie object which the Government has in view, and that if it were withdrawn it would go far to allay a good deal of the discontent which is now spreading. Finally, as to what the right hon. Gentleman said relating to Mr. Marston might be said months and months ago. That should be considered in the light that he was acting under a condition of pressure at the time. After all, Mr. Marston signed as an agent. It is not enough to say Mr. Marston has departed from his word. He is being driven from his words by the terms of this Clause. It is not consistent for the Government to make this charge against the Chairman of the Policemens' Union at a moment when they are making it totally impossible by the Clause in this Bill to conform to the agreement which he had to sign at that time.


If I gather aright what my right hon. Friend said just before he sat down, it is perfectly true that this Clause is intended to prevent policemen joining any outside body such as that to which Mr. Marston belongs. It is not right for the right hon. Gentleman to say that Mr. Marston is driven by this Clause to break his word and the conditions ha made. He has broken them consistently from the moment he signed them. I should like to enter a protest against the suggestion that this Clause, or any single word of it, is an attack upon trade unionism. To speak of it as if it were such an attack is wrong. It is nothing of the sort. On the Second Reading, speech after speech was made from the opposite side of the House, in which it was admitted, and admitted freely, that policemen could not be as ordinary industrial trade unionists. To begin with, they could not have what is the very soul of industrial trade unionism, the right to strike. Industrial trade unionism must keep that. For the police to strike is absolutely impossible! We have had months of experience of allowing the police to belong to an outside body. It has had the fullest trial. This Clause merely prevents the police joining any outside body which seeks to interfere with them. They can belong to the Labour Party or Conservative or Liberal parties. They can join their associations. They can join any goose clubs, such as have been talked about, or any other club of a similar description. If once, however, these institutions attempt to interfere with the police, try to stir up unrest among them, and try to lure them on to strike and that sort of thing, then their membership of that association must cease. That is a protection which is essential if the police force is to maintain its efficiency. This Clause goes no further than that, and I ask the House to stand by it.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: In Sub-section (2), leave out the words "trade union or association," and insert instead thereof the word "body."—[Mr. Shortt]


I beg to move, in Subsection (2), to leave out the words "Secretary of State," and to insert instead thereof the words "the Minister of Labour."


We do not know what the Amendment really is, and perhaps the Home Secretary will explain it.


If the hon. and learned Member will look at Sub-section (2) of the Clause he will see the words (2) If any question arises whether any trade union or association is a, trade union or association to which this Section applies, the question shall be determined by the Secretary of State. I have accepted an Amendment making it determinable by the Minister of Labour, who is more closely in touch with the subject than the Secretary of State.

Amendment agreed to.